Dec. 15, 2011 at 6:31 PM ET
Seniors who walk briskly may be able to delay death, essentially outrunning the Grim Reaper, a new study suggests.
Australian researchers with a wry sense of humor say they have calculated the average walking speed of the specter of death -- and it’s about 2 miles per hour.
Walk faster than that and you may outrun the Grim Reaper, too, they argue in a new study published in the latest issue of the British Medical Journal.
"As none of the men in the study with walking speeds of [3 miles per hour] or greater had contact with Death, this would seem to be the Grim Reaper's most likely maximum speed; for those wishing to avoid their allotted fate this would be the advised walking speed,” the authors wrote.
The team of researchers, based at Concord Hospital in Sydney, followed more than 1,700 older men for five years, studying the walking speeds of those who died and those who didn’t.
The men were timed with a stopwatch as they walked about 20 feet at a normal pace. During the five years that the men were followed, 266 died. Overall, their pace was slower than that of those who survived, leading the researchers to determine that people need to walk at least 3 miles per hour if they want to outrun death.
Despite its tongue-in-cheek style, the report still sends a serious message: Slow walking can be a sign that death is nipping at your heels.
Slow walking is probably both a marker for poor health and an alert that some things need to be changed to improve the health of a senior, said Dr. Anne Cappola, a gerontologist and a professor of medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
Researchers are looking into the theory that you can get people to live longer if you can get them moving faster, Cappola said. “People are trying things like resistance training and getting people to walk more,” she added. “That can be difficult when older people are living in confined living spaces or are afraid to go outside because of where they live.”
While other researchers have noticed that slower movers tend to die sooner, the approach of the humorous new study might spur more seniors to speed up their pace, Cappola said.
''People need to walk faster,” she said. “And if they’re doing it to outrun death that works just fine.”